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Sen. Tillis faces primary challengers

Sen. Tillis faces primary challengers

Three Republican candidates have thrown their hat in the ring with hopes of taking out U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis during the March 3 Primary Election. The winner will face one of five Democrats also seeking the seat in November. 

The Smoky Mountain News: In general, it’s unusual to see a number of Primary Election candidates competing against an incumbent, especially in such a high-level race like this. Why is that happening here and now?

Holmquist: I don't have a problem running against a fellow Republican if I feel that Republican has not served his constituents well and I don't think Senator Tillis has. He's made a couple big boo-boos. In 2017 he had discussions with Cory Booker, the Democrat Senator from New Jersey, about introducing legislation that would have prevented President Trump from firing [FBI director] Robert Mueller if he had chosen to do that. The president would have been perfectly within his right as head of the executive branch to dismiss Mueller if he wanted to but Thom Tillis was very public that he was having these discussions with Cory Booker. I guarantee you that's not why conservatives or Republicans in North Carolina sent Thom Tillis to Washington — they didn't send him there to play nice with Cory Booker on something like this.

Hudson: The area where I live, in the Lake Norman area, he has been pushing an infrastructure project. It's the toll lanes on Interstate 77 and it is devastating our community. As citizens we tried so hard to get him to listen to us and he never would even talk to us about it. No matter what I would say he rammed it down our throats and it's really going to hurt us. In my opinion, it's an example of graft and corruption. As our country is starting to look at rebuilding our infrastructure, I want to make sure that it's still in the right way and not the wrong way. In addition to that, I had not been happy that he's been very, in my opinion, very disloyal to President Trump.

Sen. Thom Tillis: I don't know much about the opponents. I do know one has a tendency to run in primaries, but the reality is the president has endorsed me. I've got endorsements from most of the conservative organizations out there, so we're looking ahead to the General Election and what is more or less a liberal, progressive agenda and I believe that in North Carolina, that's not going to end well for the Democrats.

SMN: There are a number of issues across this state but some of them impact the west more than most. Let's start with opioids. What can a federal legislator do that hasn't already been done? 

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Hudson: I think there were a number of things. I know they've really cracked down on prescriptions, they've cracked down on the doctors who prescribe. They've gone after some of the companies who manufacture. They've come out with some, I think there's actually some new medications that can help people get off of that as far as to help treat dependencies. Also, just general rehabilitation centers and awareness — I think awareness is a huge part of it. So when people go to the doctor and, and someone offers them opioids now, hopefully they'll think twice about that. Also if they find out that they are hooked hopefully they'll go out and try to get out.

Tillis: I think it's more fleshing out. We did the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that was led by [Sen.] Rob Portman (R-OH), and that's set up a lot of programs. We're seeing progress there. I think it's taking that and building on it, continuing to look at what's working. We are seeing a reduction, but it's still an epidemic. I think it's more fleshing out the programs and CARA and some of the subsequent authorizations and resources that we're trying to put at the local level. You know, a part of this is recognizing that overdoses are going to occur and so we have to make sure that law enforcement and first responders have the tools that they need to potentially save lives. I think we have to take a look at the mental health component, which is a significant driver of drug abuse in general and opioids. 

We also need to look more at the doctors and the prescribers because a lot of times these addictions are occurring after they were dispensed medication. I will also say, I think that the state legislatures have a role to play. You may be familiar with the STOP Act that was passed by the state legislature. Initially a lot of the health care providers were concerned with it, but now I'm getting feedback from the majority of them that say it's working. So I think it's really the whole of government working with law enforcement, working with the state legislatures and it's just continuing. CARA wasn't a one-and-done a proposal. Let’s go out there, see what's working, find other states that are progressing, and learn from that and just continue to evolve.

SMN: A lot of folks out here in the rural west think that part of the solution to the opioid crisis involves access to health care. Where do you fall on that?

Tillis: One of the factors is probably driving the reduction in opioid deaths is an improving economy, people working, so I think that you’ve got to look at access to health care and particularly mental health serves. Providing broader access to mental health care is probably the single most important thing that we can do, and then also just continuing to work on some of the re-entry programs we've talked about — criminal justice reform, the sentencing reform we did at the federal level, the Justice Reinvestment Act, which is something we did when I was Speaker [of the N.C. House], making sure that people who are incarcerated related to drugs, when they re-enter society that we're not just releasing them early but also making sure we provide them care through the transition. 

Hudson: What I found in my research, in my personal experience is that private health care, if we can reduce regulations and open the market for private health care companies, that gets the cost down. It gets the services up to serve so many more people. I think we would have to do that in conjunction with some type of fund that would cover pre-existing conditions and that's the biggest drawback that the private markets did not do before. So we do have to cover that. But my family personally did not benefit from Obamacare. Our monthly fees would've been about $3,000 a month if my husband and I had gotten on that. I know some other people who, in my opinion did not have large incomes, but they did not qualify for subsidies and so what they did was they paid the fine, which was about $500 and they just did without insurance. So the thing about Obamacare is it helped some people, but it did not help everyone. And we really need a system that can help everyone.

SMN: Buncombe county has stopped honoring detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. How closely aligned with the president are you on his view of how to fix our very broken immigration system?

Holmquist: I support the president's efforts to construct a wall on our southern border. A lot of people think, “Oh no, we just need to fling the doors open and let anybody in that wants to come to our country.” Realistically, we simply cannot do that. We can't afford it as a nation. The entire world can not come and live here in the 50 states. We've had people just basically, I don't want to say strolling, but in some cases, walking into our country, sneaking into our country for decades now. We simply can't afford it and we certainly can't afford to provide free healthcare for those who are here illegally, as some of the Democrat presidential candidates want to do.

Hudson: I support having an immigration policy that is based on merit, where we bring in people who will help our country, who will love our country and who will work with us to make it a better place. It's not in our best interest to bring in people who are going to need financial help right away. We just can't sustain that. However, I also believe in a strong guest worker program. Many countries, I'm thinking in particular about Saudi Arabia, they have a very strong guest worker program that is not at all linked to immigration. Those people cannot become citizens. They cannot vote, but they're protected. They're legal and they're not preyed on by people who would abuse them and take advantage of their situation. I don't think it's compassionate to bring people into our country and put them in a situation where, uh, they're prey. 

Tillis: To give you a sense of how closely aligned we are, the president surprised even me when he referred to a bill that I was the original co-sponsor on at the State of the Union address. Sanctuary cities are a bad and dangerous idea — not potentially dangerous but proven to be dangerous because people who were illegally present that then committed a serious crime were released without cooperating with ICE and they've done harm to people. 

So the bill that I proposed that we expect to mark up and pass out of judiciary over the next month or so just says if you implement a sanctuary policy instead of safely transferring them to ICE where they have a deportation order — the people in Asheville and Mecklenburg, and Wake County and Winston-Salem, these other jurisdictions that have implemented sanctuary policies, need to be held accountable. I think that a victim should have a right of action to sue whatever governmental entity made that decision cause it's actually a violation of a federal law. They're supposed to work with ICE for those sorts of people.

SMN: On a similar note, another type of sanctuary has started to pop up here and those are Second Amendment sanctuaries. As this debate has evolved where are we at with gun control and red flag laws as a public safety issue?

Hudson: One thing that's gotten really hot is the Second Amendment. I think with Virginia making the laws that they have and the talk about the red flag laws, I think a lot of people have gotten very concerned about losing their Second Amendment rights. As a matter of fact Burke County is getting ready to pass their Second Amendment sanctuary resolution. I plan to be there to support them in that effort. [Editor’s note — Burke County passed a resolution after this interview was conducted.]

Tillis: Actually I think that the stuff that Lindsey Graham brought up, I think a lot of people misunderstood what we were talking about. We were talking about trying to create some sort of federal framework so states wouldn't overreach and not provide due process, not provide people with the right to get their guns back, and make it something that had to go through law enforcement — it just couldn't be a disgruntled spouse or a friend who could potentially report you and raise a red flag. So it was really intended more towards narrowing some of these expansive weapons confiscation proposals. You saw up in Virginia and other states, they’re going too far. I mean, they're literally proposing taking guns away from people without providing them due process, and [using] an overly burdensome process when they do have one.

Holmquist: when I'm serving in the U.S. Senate, I'm going to be a strong a defender of the Constitution as it was written, as it has been amended. I think the Second Amendment is pretty clear — the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. I am not in favor of red flag laws. I think that is a way to take away people's guns without due process. I am not in favor of any efforts to infringe on gun ownership or gun use. 

Now, as far as schools are concerned, I don't have a problem with students and faculty having to go through metal detectors. I mean, it's gonna take a little bit of time, but if that's what it takes to keep guns out of our schools, you know, we suffer a lot of inconveniences in life for safety. When you get on an airplane, you go through a metal detector, you get checked, your bags are X-rayed. It's unfortunate that it's come to this, but if that's what it takes to keep schools safe … on airplanes, quite often they have air marshals, armed air marshals, that are dressed in civilian clothes. I think in schools it would not be harmful to have either members of the administration or others in responsible positions with weapons. If in some fashion someone were to get in with a gun, some of them could stop them quickly — a lot faster than waiting for the police to get there. 

SMN: A few years ago, our president promised he would get rid of the deficit and instead it's about to hit a trillion bucks, and it keeps adding onto our $23 trillion national debt. How does this fit into the conservative principles that a lot of conservatives were elected on?

Holmquist: I am going to encourage the president that we simply have to get our national debt not only under control, we need to start reducing it and to do everything possible and obviously reduce the deficit as well. Deficits drive the debt. We simply cannot sustain this type of spending. 

For one thing, it's totally unfair to future generations. My wife and I don't have any children, but a lot of my friends are parents, they’re grandparents, and it is simply shameful that we are passing this problem along to future generations simply because we don't want to make tough decisions. Now, future generations are going to be faced with almost impossible decisions. So when I have the opportunity to have the president's ear, I'm going to do everything I can to encourage him to reign in spending. And I think there are plenty of ways that we can reduce spending in our country. A good place to start in my humble opinion, is the $500 to $600 million of taxpayer money every year that goes to Planned Parenthood. There should not be a penny of taxpayer money going to pay for abortion in this country. So, there's a start right there. There's a about a half a billion dollars that we could shave off the deficit right there.

Hudson: It is contrary to conservative principles, of course. Conservatives will say we need to reduce our deficit as quickly as possible. The one thing I do believe though is that we have to take care of the basic things that are critical to our country. One of those things is national security, so I do agree with president Trump going ahead and spending the money on our national security as far as rebuilding our military. We absolutely do need a border wall, so those are both expenses that I totally agree with. I think some of his other policies are going to help reduce the national deficit. For example, we're now energy independent and we're growing our economy. We have a lot more people going to work who are not going to be on Medicaid and so I think that we're moving in the right direction, but now that we've solved some of those really pressing issues, I do hope that he'll move towards putting a little bit more attention on our federal deficit.


Tillis: It's one of the reasons why we have to re-elect the president and get a majority in the House. We simply do not have the numbers to do what I know the president wants to do and what I want to do, which is to reduce spending. And I'm on record as having done that as Speaker of the House. I had the numbers, we did it. It wasn’t easy but it had a hugely positive impact on the state's economy. The Democrats, and Nancy Pelosi are absolutely unwilling to talk about opening up the whole of government spending. We only appropriate and have control over about 20 percent of our national budget. The entitlement spending a number of other things are on frightening foundations. If we don't start bending the curve on debt, then Democrats are going to be responsible for breaking the promise that we've made to people who need Medicare, who need Social Security and who need Medicaid. 

But the president can only go so far. There's nothing he can do unilaterally. The president is right in increasing spending on military because in some cases, we don't even have superiority against China and we have near-peer competitors that are closing the gap but if we're going to have a serious discussion about it, it has to be the entire budget, not just 20 percent of it. Let's say we eliminate it, the military, let's say we eliminated the areas of government that we could just zero it out, that wouldn't be sufficient by itself to retire the debt.

SMN: Why are you the candidate Republican primary voters should choose on March 3?


Hudson: I believe that I'm the one who can have general appeal, who could have wide-ranging and appeal in the General Election. I've been fighting this toll lane issue for seven years. I'm not out for myself. I'm out to support our president, to support conservative values and to do good things for the people of North Carolina. As I've traveled the state, I've just been so touched by how much I love the state and how much I have a heart for it. And I really want to be a servant for the people of North Carolina in Washington.

Tillis: My pitch is fairly straightforward. I'm endorsed by President Trump, I’m endorsed by the National Right to Life. I'm endorsed by the Susan B. Anthony list. I'm endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Businesses and a number of other business groups. I have about a 93 or 94 percent voting record, one of the highest in the state, with president Trump and I've got a solid conservative track record. I'm on record for a number of things, on life, on Second Amendment, on cutting spending and increasing jobs, starting back in the time that I was Speaker of the House. I think that's why the president's endorsed me. That's why I've got a list of a number of organizations that generally don't even endorse in a primary.

Holmquist: I don't have the millions and millions of dollars that Thom Tillis has to wage this campaign. I can't speak for my other two opponents. I have no idea what their financial picture looks like. I'm doing the absolute best that I can given my campaign finances. I feel confident and I feel really optimistic. We're getting an incredibly positive response on Facebook. I'm going out to as many campaign events as possible. When I go there. I'm getting a very warm welcome. I also intend to do as much television and radio as I can. Obviously that will not be paid advertising but I'm trying to line up radio interviews and television interviews to utilize free media, if you will, so I'm utilizing the resources that I have and I'm very, very happy with the way the campaign is going.


U.S. Senate



Larry Holmquist

Age: 65

Residence: Greensboro

Occupation: Retired from sales/banking/advertising businesses

Political experience: Unsuccessful primary against Sen. Richard Burr in 2016


Sharon Hudson

Age: 60

Residence: Davidson

Occupation: Small business owner (property management)

Political experience: Unsuccessful campaign for N.C. House in 2014


Tom Tillis (i)

Age: 59

Residence: Huntersville

Occupation: Tech/insurance consultant

Political experience: Four-term N.C. House rep, first-term U.S. Senator


Paul Wright

Mr. Wright would not interview without questions provided in advance.

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